Congolese ex-Vice President Bemba acquitted of war crimes on appeal

Congolese ex-Vice President Bemba acquitted of war crimes on appeal

Congolese ex-Vice President Bemba acquitted of war crimes on appeal

Jean-Pierre Bemba, pictured in 2016, had been sentenced to a total of 18 years in prison. He may not have murdered anyone with his own hands, but as the supreme commander of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo rebel forces, he is responsible for the crimes they committed.

Bemba was was one of only four people convicted by the permanent war crimes court in its 16 years of operation, and the highest ranking among them. That original verdict, rendered in March 2016, had determined that Bemba "failed to take all necessary and reasonable measures to prevent or repress the commission of crimes by his subordinates".

But the two dissenting judges wrote that the majority had used the wrong standards for review and that its findings were, therefore, deeply flawed.

Next to the understandable rage of the victims, there is another very important aspect: If Bemba is released soon, as is expected, he will actively take a hand in Congo's politics.

Bemba, who has already spent nearly a decade in jail, will not be immediately released from detention in The Hague after he lost a separate appeal against a conviction for bribing witnesses. "It is immoral and it may even be illegal", he told reporters.

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This legal body decreed the acquittal of the politician of the Democratic Republic of the Congo accused in 2016 of charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the Central African Republic (CAR), added Judge Christine van den Wyngaert. In one incident, a man's wife was gang-raped and when he protested he, too, was raped at gunpoint.

He was acquitted after the Court of Appeal found, with objections from two judges, that the previous sentence had wrongly convicted him of criminal acts not related to the charges held against him.

Karine Bonneau of the International Federation for Human Rights slammed Friday's decision.

It remains to be seen what Bemba will do once he is released.

The message "to warlords seems to be: when you're not at the scene, let your troops commit the worst crimes and worst abominations, then say you had nothing to do with it, and we won't condemn you". He entered government with Kabila in 2003 as part of a power-sharing deal that ended years of civil war.

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